When you think of making connections and doing business outside the office, one of the first places that probably comes to mind is the golf course.
And with good reason. There are ample opportunities to get to know prospective customers, employers or executives on the links. It’s a less pressured setting than an office, and allows you to get to talk more than a brief office interaction would.
It’s a simple game, a little white ball and a few sticks, really. OK, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the point.
What you might not know is that little white ball is more complex than you think. It’s a sophisticated product that has evolved over the centuries to suit the modern game. Not to mention the fact that it’s a handy little promotional item that can be custom imprinted with a business logo.
But let’s go back way before anything gets imprinted. Let’s look back a few centuries and see how the humble golf ball developed.
In the Beginning
Some say the first golf balls were made of wood. But golf historians say there’s no evidence of that in Scotland, the birthplace of golf as we know it today.
The first golf balls know to be used in Scotland were made of stitched leather and stuffed with cow hair, used in the 15th and 16th centuries. They could be hit 135 to 150 meters (approximately 138 to 165 yards), according to golf historians. Unfortunately, they were subject to water damage.
As better golf balls became available, these remained popular as a less expensive alternative. They remained in use into the early 18th century.
Next came “featheries,” the first step closer to the modern golf ball. Instead of hair, the leather ball was stuffed with – you guessed it – feathers. Both the leather and the feathers were wet when creators assembled the balls.
As both dried, the feathers expanded and the leather shrank. That created essentially a pressurized ball not unlike modern golf balls. In a further modern touch, they were painted white, making them easy to locate.
Featheries could fly (pun intended) much farther than “hairies.” Testing in 1786 showed an average distance of 193 yards.
The next innovation: Gutta-Percha
Next came the gutta-percha ball, made from the dried resin of Malaysian trees. It resembles rubber, and became a common filling of golf balls by the mid-1800s. It offered a more durable and less expensive ball. Increased production efficiency also played a role in the lower cost, which helped promote golf to more people. Known as “gutties,” these balls were much less expensive than featheries.
(Fun fact – Gutta-percha is still used today – but not in golf. Dentists use it as permanent filling for root canals.)
Along Came Haskell
Near the turn of the 20th century, an American came along, Coburn Haskell. He worked for a rubber company in Ohio, and had the idea of tightly winding rubber band-like threads around a solid rubber core. Then, he covered the outside with gutta-percha and the next generation of golf balls was born.
Around the same time, golfers noticed that balls that were scuffed or scratched were more controllable than new ones. Before long, the dimpled ball as we know it today became standard.
Golf Balls Today
Haskell’s basic design remained the golf ball of choice for decades. Starting in the 1960s, Spalding and other companies began experimenting with different designs. Today’s golf balls typically have a solid core, no longer wrapped in the rubber band-like threads. Additionally, the outer cover has evolved to synthetic plastics.
Golf balls must meet restrictive standards set by the U.S. Golfers Association to be allowed in competitive play. They can be no smaller than 1.68 inches in diameter, and can’t weigh more than 1.62 ounces. That’s a lot of engineering for something so small!